Notes on the book In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters by Merrill Chapman. This is easily one of the funniest books ever written about real-world business. And if you grew up in the 1980's when everything in the personal computing industry was new, it's a fun trip down memory lane as well.
- Content: A-, a great variety of the software stories behind the shrinkwrap.
- Presentation: A-, damn funny.
Notes by chapter:
Lesson: the race in high-tech goes to the less stupid. Avoid killer, fatal mistakes and you should do just fine.
- First Movers, First Mistakes: IBM, Digital Research, Apple,
IBM never understood the value of the OS until too late; Apple didn't open up its system to clones and lost out on the major expansion stage; DR didn't understand software marketing.
Microsoft alone kept its eyes on the prize of being the dominant OS.
- A Rather Nutty Tale: IBM and the PC Junior
Subtractive Marketing - dumbing down your product which is already popular - is a big, dumb mistake. Even thrifty people don't want to be identified as those who could not afford anything better.
IBM could have easily kept the Jr. out of the biz market with some included games, a joystick keyboard, etc.
- Positioning Puzzlers: MicroPro and Microsoft
Wordstar and Wordstar 2000 were both word processing offerings, developed from two teams in the same company - a hopeless case of a house divided.
Less fatal was Windows 95 vs. NT, XP, etc.
Positioning is vital, be totally clear on it - e.g. low price, best quality, fastest, most popular, etc.
- We Hate You, We Really Hate You: Ed Esber and Ashton-Tate
Esber screwed over the dBase developer community, plain and simple - never understood its immense value and loyalty, refused to share, and began diversifying in stupid ways.
- The Idiot Piper: OS/2 and IBM
A total mess: late start, and flip-flopping support from IBM. Lack of corporate agility and focus.
- Frenchman Eats Frog, Chokes to Death: Borland and Philippe Kahn
Borland and its CEO (no coding experience) wasted time on acquisitions. Meanwhile Microsoft, lead by super-coder Gates, focused on an integrated Office suite of software.
- Brands for the Burning: Intel and Motorola
Pentium math co-processor error was a PR fiasco, Intel should have immediately offered a fix. Instead, foot-dragging and denial compromised their brand.
Still, the Intel Inside logo eventually paid off, whereas Motorola's Digital DNA never reached consumers to the same extent.
- From Godzilla to Gecko: The Long, Slow Decline of Novell
Mistake of Arrogance: the elite, insular programming team of Novell thought DOS networking was here to stay, ignored Windows until far too late. Also suffered from uniform mindset of being in Utah.
- Ripping PR Yarns: Microsoft and Netscape
MS quality has been much better than typically understood. And they know how do marketing. And Gates had public appeal for a long time.
Marc Andreessen: arrogance extraordinaire drew MS' attention and attack.
- Purple Haze All Through My Brain: The Internet and ASP Busts
Per the book Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, mania at work and true once again in the first Internet bubble, with badly designed business models.
The ValueAmerica ecommerce firm: boasted that it could ship from anywhere, but people returned products to them, not the original source!
Webvan: who needs it that badly? Also, local supermarkets and grocers were already doing this.
eToys: not nearly disruptive enough to incumbent toy stores
Early Application Service Providers (ASPs): the software sucked, big server and thin client just couldn't deliver the goods for traditional needs like word processing and spreadsheets; issues of trust (a 3rd party running my sales force??) and upgradability also arose.
- Be wary of rewriting code from scratch; programmers need to control their impulses and understand business needs.
- Tech companies need tech people at the very top - those who understand both technology and business/marketing, and aren't afraid to argue with programmers.